Not going to try the Impossible: Several South Dakota schools set to use local meat, not fake meat
The Wall School district will not be serving “Impossible Food” items to their students anytime soon. In fact the head cook, Lynn Dunker, said the school will again be serving beef that was born, raised and processed locally to their students.
Several other South Dakota schools including Burke, Faith, Hot Springs, New Underwood, Custer, Edgemont, Kadoka, Philip, Newell, and probably more, are in varying stages of the Beef to School program, which allows them to utilize local beef.
As Tri-State Livestock News reported in May, USDA has approved “Impossible Foods” as a protein option for the school lunch program. Impossible Foods produces alternative meat products made of soy and other products.
Dunker, who recently spoke at a conference to educate school nutrition experts across the state about the Beef to School program, said she has no plans of serving plant-based meat alternatives. “We will not ever be serving anything like that in our district. We’ve always served real meat.”
Mikayla Hardy, the South Dakota School Nutrition Programs Assistant Director, said schools can make local decisions about the beef they purchase, and some choose to add beef with vegetable protein added, which cuts down on costs.
The Wall school system, under Dunker’s direction, has only served real beef without filler. She said the biggest change she encountered when switching to local beef, was that the beef patties she gets now are not pre-cooked, which isn’t a problem, she said.
Even before she kicked off a pilot project in 2019 that would allow her to serve local beef in school lunches, she was already scheduling beef-centric lunches about half of the time.
“We are in a four-day school week. We serve beef about twice per week,” said Dunker. Eventually she would love to access locally produced pork for a pulled pork sandwich, she said, admitting that local chicken is probably not feasible.
Dunker had to re-work her budget when she, the school administration, and some local ranchers decided to work with Wall Meats to set up a program that allowed her access to local beef.
The “USDA” dollars had previously been used to buy beef, but she now allocates that money for vegetables and fruit, and uses other parts of the budget for beef purchases. She said purchasing local beef is slightly more expensive, but that the benefits outweigh the negatives.
She’s hoping eventually USDA re-works their system so that the USDA allocated funds will be available for local beef. She has actually travelled to the nation’s capital city to discuss this. “We talked to USDA about streamlining our USDA entitlement dollars so they can pay for that beef from our community. It’s good for the local economy. It’s just nice to have that fresh product coming in and feeding our kids.
Dunker, who grew up on a farm and ranch near Milesville, South Dakota, serves standby favorites like spaghetti, chili, and hamburgers and also includes a hot hamburger (whole wheat bun, burger, gravy, mashed potatoes) in her meal rotation, along with beef and noodles and a barbecued beef sandwich, all using beef processed at Wall Meats.
Wall Meats has been an integral part of the program’s success, she said, because the local processor procures the cattle, processes them, ensures that it meets USDA guidelines for fat content, etc, and packages it appropriately. The school district buys the beef directly from Wall Meats.
Hardy said that beef for school lunch programs must be processed in a state inspected or federally inspected plant. While some only process and some only slaughter, there are a total of 34 plants in South Dakota that are state inspected. Of those, 18 can both slaughter and process beef. For this full list, see sidebar.
North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming also have state meat inspection programs. Nebraska does not.
Hardy said her office helps ensure that foods purchased with the “food entitlement” funding is grown and processed in the USA, except for items like bananas which are not grown in this country at a commercial level.
Hardy explained that, the National School Lunch Program/School Breakfast Program “Buy American” requirement is this: an agricultural product that is produced in the United States substantially using agricultural commodities that are produced in the United States.
As for “fake meat” or plant based meats being served in South Dakota schools, Hardy said each school makes its own purchasing decisions but at this time, no school has reached out to her to ask questions about it. “So that’s a pretty good indication that we probably don’t have much if any interest in our state,” she said.
Hardy suggests that those who are interested in getting local beef into their school systems, contact their local school administration and head cook and make in initial inquiry, and make the project as community-centered as possible. She and her office are willing to help in any way possible, too. “Individual ranchers and associations have reached out to our office and we try to make connections when we can,” she said.
“It takes a cheerleader for this to become established,” she said, adding that several entities including SDSU Extension, and the Animal Industry Board have been helpful. Dunker echoed those thoughts, adding that the South Dakota Beef Industry Council has offered resources to help with the program and educate the students about beef as well.
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